The Regular Grand Jury had several recommendations for the court, including revamping the bond system and its bias, as well as more de-escalation training for police officers.
Here is the full report of the Regular Grand Jury
Fall Term, 2023
The Honorable Judge Boyd Patterson
Judge, Criminal Court
Hamilton County, TN.
III Judicial District Criminal Court
Grand Jury selection started for this Regular Grand Jury as it starts for most jurors with the uncertainty of timing, the nervousness of being grouped together in a large room with no real information provided concerning the outcome of the day’s activities. As the selection process started, Jury Foreman Jimmy Anderson did a fantastic job of outlining the expectations for a grand juror. He also expressed his opinion, based upon years of service, that to be selected would be an honor and an experience that we would regret if we missed it. Our session began with an introduction and swearing in by the presiding judge. After this, he echoed the sentiments that Jimmy expressed, as well as thanked us for or service to justice and the state of Tennessee. Serving on the Grand Jury has been an incredibly eye-opening learning experience for each of us. While we have immense respect for those that participate in the criminal justice system, we do acknowledge that our system is not without shortcomings and a need for improvement. With this report and our service, it is our intent that our service be of benefit to the citizens of Hamilton County.
As our term started, it was noted that some changes to the prior system had been made in the effort to streamline and efficiently move cases through the judicial system. One item that many jurors made mention of that caused concern was the length of time that some cases spend in adjudication. Several cases that were presented to us were several years old, and officers had to resort to reading narratives verbatim. One of the changes that were introduced to us that are attempting to correct this lengthy process, is “cradle to the grave” prosecution. We as a jury thought that this was a stellar example of problem solving.
Another issue that concerned us was the availability of reporting officer’s appearances to report to grand jury. We realize that the officers of Hamilton County are busy, but time should be allotted to them by their superiors to appear in court to present their cases. Often, officers and investigators were appearing on their own time to present their cases. One memorable case, the officer had been up for days prior to their appearance. More time allowed for these officers to appear, or seeking additional options to present cases such as Zoom or other video calls this would allow many cases to be cleared from court dockets.
The visit to the detention facility formerly known as Silverdale was an experience that many of the jurors used words like horrifying and scary to describe. We recognize that as a detention facility, the intention is to incarcerate inmates at a level that is often uncomfortable. However, with up to 60 percent of inmates suffering from mental health issues, additional housing for these inmates to segregate them from general population would be a step towards a calmer and less dangerous prison environment. The newly completed section of this facility did seem to be constructed with the goal of a more humane environment for the inmates.
The visits by drug enforcement, DUI and other subjects were informative. More time being allotted for these visits would be beneficial for members of the jury who have rarely dealt with the criminal element. Additionally, we noticed a high incidence of repeat offenders for DUI and drug cases. The suggestion of stiffer penalties with less leniency was fielded by many. One positive we noticed, was a direct and intentional drive by the district attorney and her office to not waste the time of criminal court with cases that could be handled at the sessions level, such as marijuana cases and petty thefts. Often, we were asked to no-bill charges of possession of marijuana so that more substantive charges could be considered. We feel this is a step in the right direction towards clearing needless and time-consuming prosecution.
One topic that was talked about deeply was the bond system and its bias. We recommend that this system, if not already under review, needs to be revisited by the D.A. and legislators. The current system allows for those with the financial means, to essentially avoid incarceration during the trial stages of their cases, thereby allowing many of the repercussions to be avoided. A more equitable system that takes economic status into consideration, thereby allowing everyone the same opportunities would be the recommendation of this Grand Jury.
There were two cases of note that passed through our term that made all of us take notice. Both cases dealt with the use of force and the results of limited training and resources. One, was an officer that made a traffic stop that then escalated to physicality. While we understand that officers are often faced with situations that require quick thinking and even quicker action, in this case a lack of de-escalation training coupled with a healthy dose of ego resulted in an arrest that could have serious repercussions for the defendant that could have potentially been avoided with additional resources made available to the officer. This in no way minimizes the defendant’s responsibilities in the traffic stop, however the officer handled things in a way that we feel was less than ideal.
The second case involved a school resource officer and a high school student. At the time of this incident, the officer again showed a general lack of training and no desire to de-escalate the situation. While the statements made by the defendant in this case did create the potential for the officer to feel threatened, had the situation been handled with a bit more tact and diplomacy, the use of force and arrest potentially be avoided. It is the recommendation of this Grand Jury that more meaningful training be afforded to the officers of Hamilton County in conflict resolution and de-escalation.
As we sat our term during this session, we noticed a troubling trend in more and more youthful offenders passing through the adult system. While we recognize the importance of transferring some of these cases from the juvenile court system, we would be remiss if we did not mention the apparent lack of community resources available to the youth of this county. We recommend that D.A. Wamp and the legislative team of Hamilton County take a long and deep look into opportunities to provide community programs for the youth of Hamilton County.
The Regular Grand Jury, serving during September, 2023-December, 2023, heard 230 cases of which 156 True Bill; 43 presentment and 40 no bills.
Throughout our term, there were many officers that we would like to acknowledge for their professionalism and preparedness. The 2023 Hamilton County Regular Grand Jury would like to acknowledge and thank the following individuals for their support, guidance and professional assistance. These individuals made our experience rewarding and successful:
District Attorney Coty Wamp
Assistant District Attorney Tom Landis
Jury Foreman Jimmy Anderson
SGT. Russ (May he rest in peace)
Det. Slaughter of the Chattanooga Police Department
The Honorable Judge Patterson
The Honorable Judge Dunn